Even so, Scotland’s tortured efforts to score so far in Euro 2020 have made the concept of breaching opponents’ defences appear akin to sequencing the human genome. As a result, Steve Clarke’s men have been left in an unambiguous position for their final Group D encounter against Croatia: crack the goal code or see hopes of becoming the first team from the country to reach the second round of a major finals shatter into tiny pieces.
As Scotland face a must-win game, the concern for Clarke and an entire nation, won’t be consumed by the status as solitary nation of the 24 participants not to have netted. It is that the unwanted statistic isn’t a consequence of being too cautious in their opening game 2-0 loss to the Czech Republic last week, and the scoreless draw with England at Wembley on Friday. Instead, it will be that they have been anything but so.
UEFA’s number-crunching for goal attempts is enough to squash spirits. Ahead of Monday’s fixtures, only four teams at Euro 2020 had fashioned more. The 30 figure for Clarke’s side is on a par with Italy… who just happen to be the top scorers in the competition with seven goals. Their haul came from 45 goal attempts across their three encounters, an average of 15 attempts per game. The precise ratio for Scotland across their two blanks.
Clarke has belied his safety-first reputation in fielding a twin strike-force. He won’t deviate from that against the Croatians, meaning Lyndon Dykes and Che Adams must put behind them the half dozen decent-to-excellent opportunities they have passed up. While Dykes snatched attempts have betrayed the fact he is not a natural finisher, his Southampton frontline partner definitely has a goal in him. As he has demonstrated in netting twice across a still-nascent six-cap career.
Perhaps not from the off, but certainly if the contest with the Croatians remains goalless across the first hour, there must be willingness to take risks. With 11 goals across Clarke’s tenure, John McGinn has been the most potent performer for his national manager. Advancing him from his no.10 role to become effectively a third striker must be a consideration should a goal prove elusive.
So, too, must be unleashing James Forrest down the right at the expense of Stephen O’Donnell in that scenario. The Celtic man’s five goals in the international domain make him second only to McGinn for scoring returns among the current squad. Indeed, he almost brought Scotland back to life against the Czechs when he carved his way into the box and had a goalbound shot narrowly blocked after replacing O’Donnell in the 79th minute last Monday. With 12 goals in Europe for Celtic, many of them tie-turners, the 29-year-old has developed a happy knack for netting in cross-border competition.
What Scotland must not do is go out with a whimper. A seventh game of the nine they have contested at Euros over the past three decades ending without them scoring would represent that sorry outcome. But it would also demonstrate the head-scratching sure to be currently afflicting Clarke goes with the territory managing Scotland at such a finals.